AN OPEN LETTER TO EUGENE GRISSOM
William Alexander Hammond
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in 2011 with funding from
State Library of North Carolina
EUGENE GRISSOM, M.D., LL.D., Etc.,
OF THE ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE,
AT RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA.
A. HAMMOND, M.D.,
OF NEW YORK.
"Homines qui gestant, quique auscultant crimina
Si meo arbitratu liceat, omnes pendeant
Gestores Unguis, auditores auribus."
NEW YORK :
THOW'S PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY,
205-213 East 12th Street.
North Carolina Stat© Library
EUGENE GKISSOM, M.D., LL.D., Etc.,
SUPERINTENDENT OF THE ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE,
AT RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA.
WILLIAM A. HAMMOND, M.D.,
OF NEW YORK.
; Homines qui gestant, quique auscultant crimina
Si meo arbitratu liceat, omnes pendeant
Gestores linguis, auditores auribus."
NEW YORK :
TROWS PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY,
205-213 East 12th Street.
AN OPEN LETTER.
43 West Fifty-fourth Street,
New York, June 1, 1878.
My Dear Grissom :
Terrence, with whose writings so profound a scholar as you
must necessarily be familiar, says : Homo sum ; humani nihil a m&
alienum puto. In that grand expression I find my excuse, not only
for addressing you in terms of endearment, but for addressing you at
all. There is doubtless something of humanity about you, and to the
extent that you partake of the nature of man is my interest in you.
How much of your humanity is inherent, and how much has been ac-
quired by association with wiser and better men than yourself, I do
not know ; neither is it a matter of any consequence, so far as the
purpose of this communication is concerned.
Hearing of you for the first time, a few days ago, I naturally turned
to that repertory of the lives of great men, " The Physicians and
Surgeons of the United States ;" and I there found that you were
born on the 8th of May, 1831. Consequently, when you exhibited
your eloquence, your learning, your refinement, your truth, your
courtesy, and your Christian charity to the assembled wisdom of in-
sane asylum superintendents at Washington, you were almost exactly
forty-seven years of age.
I found also that, in the short space of twenty-six years, beginning
with your reaching the age of manhood, you have been a lawyer, a
teacher, a " Superior Court clerk," a physician of rank, with an ardu-
ous practice, lasting three years, a captain in the Confederate Army, a
member of the Legislature, again a member of the Legislature, a mem-
ber of the Constitutional State Convention, an aide-de-camp to the
Governor, with the rank of colonel ; and that then, surfeited with
honors, you declined " many proffers of distinguished political posi-
tions, including that of Lieutenant-Governor, and accepted the office
of Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane, at Ealeigh, in
1868," which, as I am sorry to learn, you still retain, performing the
duties in a manner satisfactory to " both political parties."
4: AN OPEN LETTER.
This sketch, which is enlivened by many other interesting particu-
lars, is also illustrated with a beaiitifully engraved portrait, at which
I have looked for hours at a time, vainly endeavoring to catch some
expression indicative of the characteristics so great a man should
possess. But, alas ! all I can see is a varying gleam of something (I
cannot call it intelligence), which at one time looks like stolid wick-
edness, and at another latent insanity. I am, therefore, forced to the
conclusion that that happy blending of "depravity and mental aberra-
tion which, as some alienists contend, many of the criminal class ex-
hibit, has a beautiful example in you.
•But a great deal of reflection on this momentous psychological
problem convinces me that you have more to fear from the tendency
to insanity than all the rest of the world has from your wickedness.
Now, as it is your welfare, my dear Grissom, that prompts me to
write this letter, I am naturally anxious to word it in a way most
likely to conduce to your advantage ; and hence it becomes necessary
to avail myself of every scrap of information in regard to you on
which I can lay my hands. As one of the aids to my study of your
character, I have carefully perused the report of your remarks, before
alluded to, published in the National Standard, of Washington City,
which you were kind enough to send me, and which act of gener-
osity I fully appreciate. I especially thank you, my dear Grissom,
for indicating with a blue pencil line the part in which } r ou so elo-
quently speak of me ; for, otherwise, simply seeing that you had
spoken, and never, strange to say, having heard of you before, despite
your crushing honors, I should not have thought of reading the text
of your speech, and therefore you would have lost the chance of
reformation or cure which this letter will give you, and the youth
of our country the warning which I hope to inculcate through your
In this very interesting and instructive address you have, as I
have intimated, done me the honor of calling attention to what you
are pleased to regard as some of my mental and moral characteris-
tics. Not being an insane asylum superintendent, I was, of course,
not present; but the report in the daily newspaper is very graphic,
and, as it is endorsed by you, is doubtless correct. Had I been
there, you would probably have hesitated before delivering your
speech, and thus again you would have lost the opportunity of being
benefited by what I am about to say to you. But in that event,
although you would have been deprived of this letter, you would
probably have received some compensation, for I very much fear,
AN OPEN LETTER. 5
my dear Grissom, that I should have yielded to the evil spirit which,
as you say, has taken me captive, have lost the philosophical calm-
ness which I try to maintain when thrown into contact with persons
like you, and have laid a not very gentle horsewhip over your ample
shoulders. Who knows, however, but that you would have selected
this, had the choice been offered you ? I have known unruly children
to place the rod in the paternal hands, and, preferring physical suffer-
ing to mental anguish, beg that a bodily castigation might take the
place of the anticipated lecture.
But this is digressing. Let us return to some of your antecedents,
reserving for another part of this letter the fuller consideration of
your eloquent remarks — remarks so eloquent and at the same time
sq suitable, that, as the reporter states, they were received by the
noble body to which they were addressed with the most vociferous
What your peculiar qualifications were for the position of super-
intendent of an insane asylum, after having filled the various positions
in the legal, pedagogic, and military professions you are shown to have
occupied, must, I am afraid, forever remain a mystery. By whom
you were appointed your biographer does not tell us. Probably by
the Legislature of which you were a member. Such bodies, as we all
know, often do very remarkable things in the way of appointments.
But if any Legislature has ever done quite so remarkable a thing as
making one of its own members the superintendent of a lunatic asy-
lum, the instance has escaped my observation. It may, however,
have regarded you — and your previous career would almost have
warranted the supposition— as one of those exceptional individuals
of whom an English statesman spoke as ready to " play whipper-
in to the House of Commons, sail the Channel fleet, or cut for stone
on five minutes' notice."
Nevertheless, you certainly never distinguished yourself as a lawyer ;
the youth whom you have educated are yet unknown to fame ; your
prowess on the field of battle has never been blazoned to the world,
although your biographer states that you were wounded, but in what
part of your anatomy we are not informed. It is as an asylum su-
perintendent that you have at last achieved notoriety, and it is as
such that I shall mainly have to consider you in this communication.
And I shall have to determine, so far as my humble power will permit,
what had better be done for the alleviation of the misfortunes under
which you suffer.
A wise man has said that there is more hope for a knave than a
AN OPEN LETTEK.
fool. The one may possibly be brought to realize his wickedness,
the other can never be taught to know how worthless he is. But in
this view, so far as it relates to the inaptitude of fools, I cannot co-
incide. I have known people as devoid of reason, as you have shown
yourself to be, made by kindness and consideration useful, though,
perhaps, not very exalted members of society — and this without the
\ise of mechanical restraint : a therapeutical power which you. evi-
dently regard as a sovereign remedy for all mental affections.
It is quite evident that you ought to be not only cured, but also
reformed. I am afraid I cannot undertake *iis latter task : as the
barber said when he shaved a blacksmith, but refused the like office
to a coal-heaver, " The line must be drawn somewhere." Were
1 to engage to do for you everything that your case requires, I should
be busy with you, my dear Grissom, all the rest of my life ; and how-
ever pleasant to me and useful to you such aD association might be,
there are limits beyond which a regard for my other occupations will
not allow me to go. I am therefore forced to leave the duty of your
reformation to some other person. Perhaps some society would
undertake the charitable work. There is an association for the
reformation of juvenile delinquents which has done a good deal of
telling labor in this direction ; but I am not sure that your age (forty-
seven, I believe) would not prove a bar to its assumption of the
charge. There certainly, however, must be some way by which that
part of your case can be attended to, and I commend the matter to
the serious consideration of yourself and friends. Should you not
take this advice to heart, I am afraid, my dear Grissom, that the
strong arm of the law may some day be laid upon you, and that the
reformation you would not voluntarily seek may be forced upon you
through the medium of mechanical restraint not less galling than that
which you are in the habit of inflicting on the poor wretches under
your supervision in the Insane Asylum at Raleigh.
It is to your care, therefore, that I must confine myself; and in
what I shall have to say to you under this head I beg that jou will
regard me as being actuated by a sincere desire to save you from im-
pending disaster. To be sure, your case is interesting, in a scientific
point of view ; but, if I know myself, my dear Grissom, my love for
you predominates over any mere psychological interest which so
morbid a specimen as you can excite.
Before proceeding to discuss the subject of your treatment, I must
endeavor to convince you that you really are of the insane tempera-
ment, if not now on the very borderland of insanity.
AN OPEN LETTER. 7
1. In the first place, I find that you are a sixteenth child. Now, as
everybody knows, sixteenth children are very rare, and are, in their
way, even more remarkable than seventh sons. In all the instances
of sixteenth children that have come under my observation, there was
mental obliquity of some kind or other.
2. Precocity of intellect. I find, on consulting your biography,
that yon passed yo\ir early days on your father's farm, and that then,
after a " course " (whatever that may be) at Graham High School,
your entered upon the study of law, and devoted some time to teach-
ing ; that, despite the flattering prospects of success before you and
your great popularity, resulting in your election as Superior Court
clerk at the early age of twenty-two, you turned to the more con-
genial study of medicine, and that on graduating you at once became
a leading physician in the county of your birth. If this biography
were not written by yourself, I would be disposed to doubt the fact
of your having been a leading physician in Granville County, which,
as I know, at that time possessed several skillful and experienced
practitioners. However, it must be so, since you say it ; and hence
the fact of your precocity may be considered as established. Now,
all alienists declare precocity to be a very dangerous condition. The
number of precocious boys who have become insane men is enormous •
and even when positive mental aberration is not produced, the mind
in after-life is unable to direct the individual in a sure, strong, and
successful career. Thus Brigham, 1 in speaking of such cases as yours,
" Others of the class of early prodigies, and I believe the most
numerous portion, exhibit in manhood but small mental powers, and
are the mere passive instruments of those who in early life were ac-
counted their inferiors."
How pregnant with truth is each word of this extract from the
writings of one of our greatest alienists, and how strikingly the lan-
guage is applicable to you ! No one can read your recent speech
without perceiving that your mental powers are almost infinitesimal
and that you are only " the passive instrument " of one with a longer
head than yours, my dear Grissom.
Broussais 2 declares that prodigies of premature intellectual devel-
opment and education rarely prosper. If encephalitis does not carry
1 Mental Exertion in Relation to Health. English edition. 1864. p. 56.
2 A Treatise on Physiology applied to Pathology. American Edition. Phil-
adelphia, 1826. p. 178.
8 AN OPEN LETTER.
them off, they infallibly perish with gastritis or scrofula. Most gen-
erally all these evils oppress them at once, and, if they do not sink
under them in early life, they carry with them to mature age an irri-
tability which does not allow of their resisting the morbific influences
in the midst of which man is forced to live. And he adds, " If the
simple exercise of thought can occasion so many evils, what will it not
be when the passions are associated with it ! "
3. Closely allied to precocity, is the fact that children of whom
much is hoped are exceedingly apt to disappoint the expectations
that have been formed of them, and often, from the supervention of
insanity or imbecility . As Wanley ' says :
" As many a bright and fair morning has been followed by dark
and black clouds before sunset, so not a few have outlived their own
virtues and utterly frustrated the good hopes that were conceived of
Thus Bassianus Caracalla was so courteous, and pleasant, and obse-
quious in his childhood to his parents, his friends, and indeed to all
the people, that every man was the admirer of his piety, meekness,
and good nature. But advancing further into years, he was so
changed in his manners and behavior, and was of so cruel and bloody
a disposition, that many could scarcely believe it was the same per-
son whom they had known in his childhood. 2
So it has been with you, my dear Grissom. The " popularity " of
your early youth, which doubtless you only obtained by the display
of many god-like virtues, is now, since you selected the superintend-
ency of the State Insane Asylum, at Raleigh, changed to hatred and
contempt in the hearts of all who are aware of the barbarities and
outrages you inflict on the helpless creatures so unfortunate as to be
under your control, but yet who are ignorant of the mitigating cir-
cumstances I am alleging in your case. But even Caracalla had the
excuse of insanity.
4. Vain-glorious boasting is, as perhaps even you know, a most im-
portant symptom of a form of insanity. It is also a sign which, when
encountered in persons of the insane temperament, is fraught with
danger. That you are a vain-glorious boaster no one reading your
autobiography can fail to perceive. Relative to such persons as you,
an old writer, 3 from whom I have already quoted, remarks:
1 Wonders of the Little World. Loudon, 1806. Vol II., p. 5.
2 Wanley, op. cit. , p. 6.
a Wanley, Vol. II., p. 132.
AN OPEN LETTER. 9
" Empty vessels make the greatest sound in a vault ; shallow brains
the greatest noise in company : and both are equally disesteemed.
Those that think to establish a reputation in arts or arms by vain-
glorious boastings, do not only build upon sand, but involuntarily
encase both truth and time to demolish it. Men and things may
have a commendable esteem in a mediocrity, but straining the point
by proud boasts discovers a sordid disingenuity, and commonly ends
in contempt and derision."
Really your biography reminds me greatly of the speech of a Cas-
tilian captain :
" When I descend into myself, and contemplate my most terrible,
horrible terribility, I can hardly contain myself within myself; for
I believe that all the public notaries in Biscay are not able, in three
years, to sum up the account of those miraculous achievements
which this Toledo blade, this scourge of Lutherans, this converter of
Pagans, this peopler of churchyards, has performed. I am that in-
vincible slaughterer of mankind, that transcendent great captain,
Basilisco Espheramonte, generalissimo of all the militia of Europe.
I am he who swallows mountains, breathes out whirlwinds, spits tar-
gets, and sweats quicksilver."
Read your biography (written by yourself) again, my dear Gris-
som, and see how nearly you are in accord with the great Basilisco
Espheramonte. You also remind me of Oromages, who boasted that
he had an enchanted egg in which he had inclosed all the happiness
of the world, but when it was broken there was nothing found in it
but wind. 1 That Espheramonte and Oromages were lunatics can
scarcely be doubted.
5. A cai-eful perusal of your eloquent address convinces me that
you are subject to exacerbations which strongly resemble attacks of re-
current or of epileptic maria. Never having examined you personally,
I hesitate to express a decided professional opinion on this point ; but I
adduce the following facts for the consideration of yourself and friends :
I find that you kindly refer to me as (1) "a Bombastes Furioso,"
(2) "a modern Spartan," (3) ''a Titus Oates," (4) "a great moral
reformer without a belief in a Divine Master," (5) " a Cardiff giant "
(6), " a Cagliostro," (7) " a moral monster whose baleful eyes gleam
with delusive light."
Now, my dear Grissom, let me ask you, in all seriousness, that you
will in some calm moment, if any such occurs to you, read over the
1 Howel's Germanic Dictionary.
10 AN OPEN LETTER.
above list of cognomens yon have applied to me ; and, bringing to
bear upon the subject as much of your reasoning power as you can
concentrate upon any one matter, tell me if any one of the lunatics
under your charge was to disport himself with such vituperative an-
tics, you would not subject him instantly to the operation of the
whole paraphernalia of mechanical restraint — muffles, camisoles, gags,
Utica cribs, and all- — till you had reduced him to a condition approach-
ing repose ?
Or if any person, with or without your antecedents, should, with-
out personal provocation, and against an individual whom he had
never seen, use such a senseless, maniacal, and incoherent tissue of
abuse as that I have quoted from your speech, he would not be re-
garded by every competent alienist as exhibiting very strong evidence
of being insane ?
How contradictory are the epithets ! Your mind (what there was)
wandered ; your delusions followed each other in most rapid succes-
sion. How, I ask you, my dear Grissom, can a man be at the same
time " a great moral reformer" and " a moral monster " ? How can
he be a modern Spartan and a Cardiff giant ? How can he be a Cagli-
ostro and a Titus Oates ? How can he be all of these things at the
same time ? My dear friend, if you were to die, there is not a jury
in the civilized world which would not, on the ground of insanity,
from a consideration of that list and the attendant circumstances, set
aside any will you might have made, or absolve you from responsibility
for any crime you might have committed. And the very illustrious
insane asylum superintendents, who so enthusiastically greeted you
" with loud and prolonged applause," and gave " you a perfect ova-
tion of handshaking and congratulations," would, many of them, on
the same evidence, be among the first to swear away your testamen-
tary capacity or your legal responsibility, as the case might be.
The form of insanity to which you tend, or which already afflicts you,
is, as I have said, a matter of some little doubt. My own opinion is,
that it is either recurrent or epileptic mania ; and I incline, after very
full consideration, to the latter view. If I only had the opportunity
of asking you a few questions, or inquiring of some of your friends, I
should be better enabled to give a positive opinion. I should like to
know whether you have ever waked in the morning and found your
tongue sore ? whether there is ever blood on the pillow which receives
your head ? whether you are subject to attacks of vertigo ? etc., etc.
1 am quite sure — as sui'e as though I had seen you — that you frothed
at the mouth while delivering your speech. Were you unconscious
AN OPEN LETTEK. 11
at that time ? These, my dear Grissom, are questions which, ought
to be answered, and yet some of them are of such a character as to
be outside the range of your personal knowledge. Will you not as-
certain, from some of your auditors, the principal phenomena, mental
and physical, and inform me at your earliest convenience ?
I think I have demonstrated to your satisfaction that your case is
one requiring immediate treatment. Now, what is to be done V A
friend, looking over my shoulder, says: " Gag him." Another, of
whom I asked the question, replied: " Put him in a Utica crib." A
third — one who, I am free to confess, has but few bowels of compas-
sion — answered : " Confine him in his own lunatic asylum." But none
of these means will do. As you are aware, my principles being
against the use of mechanical restraint, I cannot conscientiously ad-_
vise the use either of the gag or the Utica crib and confinement in
an asylum, which has been directed by you, and in which, there-
fore, all the procedures run in ruts of your making, would be a thera-
peutical measure of so severe a character that I could not recommend
it in the case of a criminal lunatic of characteristics worse even than
those you have exhibited.
But I would have you, my dear Grissom, take the matter into
serious consideration, and by the exercise of your own volitional
powers endeavor to control the manifestation of such emotional dis-
turbances as you exhibited a few days ago in Washington. I do not
know that you ever saw a little book, written several years since by
the Rev. Mr. Barlow, and entitled " Man's Power over Himself to
Prevent or Control Insanity." In that monograph you will find
many valuable counsels.
Dr. Tuke 1 has quite recently written a book which may be within
your reach, and which, if it is not, it will give me great pleasure to
send you. In the meantime I cannot do you a greater service than
by quoting a few passages, which strike me as being especially ap-
plicable to your case :
" It may safely be asserted, however, that there is no fact better
established than that we can exert our will over our mental processes
to a very large extent. I would insist, in the strongest possible man-
ner, upon the necessity of self-rule or control. If I believe that we
are conscious automata, I should have no heart to ask a man to do
this. But I believe in no instance is it more important that men
should recognize their own will and the obligation of employing it
1 Insanity in Ancient and Modern Life, with Chapters on Prevention. Lon-
12 AN OPEN LETTER.
to control those really automatic tendencies of the mind which often
are characteristic of insanity" (p. 153).
"It must never be forgotten that in a large number of instances in-
sanity comes on insidiously, and that, therefore, it may be pursuing
its silent course long before maniacal excitement, an attempt to
commit suicide or a violent assault are witnessed. Hence the slightest
suspicions of mental derangement ought to induce careful attention
and early care" (p. 215).
After inculcating a strict attention to the laws of health, Dr. Tuke
" The path, then, towards the preservation of a healthy mind- — in
other words, escaping an attack of insanity — is sufficiently plain,
-though I cannot speak so sententiously as in the words of advice of
an old Irish physician, which I once heard in Dublin : ' Keep,' he
said, ' your skin clean, your stomach clean, and your conscience
clean / ' excellent advice, which would, no doubt, go a long way in
preventing mental as well as bodily disease " (p. 188).
" On the first threatenings of insanity, let the person so threat-
ened be removed from associations or surroundings which may foster
morbid feelings; complete change of scene is desirable" (p. 214).
This is a most important piece of advice. Situated as you are,
your associations are of the very worst possible character, and cannot
but militate strongly against your mental health. Day by day you
are brought into contact with the very disease it is so desirable you
should escape, or be cured of. The force of exainple is constantly
exerted upon you ; your thoughts are eternally directed in the same
channel ; your forebodings are always of the most gloomy form.
Even your sleep must be haunted by the frightful pictures which are
presented to you in your dreams. Leave the asylum ! Give up the
superintending of an institution, the duties of which you only dis-
charge to the satisfaction of " both political parties," and seek, amid
other scenes, perhaps in another clime, the change which you can
never get with your present surroundings. You say, in your speech,
that I have seduced the Congress of the nation into doing what I
wanted. Would to God I could exert a like influence over the Legis-
lature of North Carolina ! Then, my dear Grissom, you would be free.
As to the best occupation for you, Tuke, in like cases, recommends
the sea :
lt A sailor's life, for" instance, exposes him to many dangers, but
not to that of insanity, so long at least as he is at sea. As Ruskin
puts it, 'the ocean- work is wholly adverse to any morbid conditions
AN OPEN LETTER. 13
of sentiment ' " (p. 189). Go then to sea ; enlist in the navy, and stay
there, but do anything rather than keep a lunatic asylum, and you may
escape the dangers to which you are so strongly liable, and perhaps
even be cured of the ills from which you already suffer.
And now, my dear Grissom, I have done my duty, and must bring
this long epistle to a close. Had I written it upon any other basis than
the theory of your irresponsibility, I should have called attention to
the fact that abuse is not argument, and that your language to the As-
sociation of Superintendents of Insane Asylums was more an insult to
them than to me. They do not, however, seem to have so regarded
it, and therefore their conduct is calculated to call up a blush to the
face of every honorable physician when he reflects that these men call
themselves Ms peers. I should have reminded you that I had never,
in my whole life, mentioned your name, and that therefore you could
have had no reasonable ground for personal hostility. I should have
stated that my sole cause of offence was the fact that I had ventured
to express my views — without the slightest personality — on the sub-
ject of mechanical restraint in insane asylums. I should have asked
you what you and those you represented could possibly hope to gain
by treating a most important subject, not with reasoning, but with
vituperation so foul as would disgrace the inmates of a brothel ; I
should have inquired what my real or supposed theological views
have to do with any statements I may have made relative to the
management of insane asylums. I should have dwelt upon the fact
that if this is to be your line of defence, you grossly mistake the
temper and the understanding of the Ameiican people ; for, though
no prophet, I perceive very clearly that what Pinel and Conolly
did for France and England, some one will do for this country, and
that ere long, camisoles and Utica cribs will go the way of chains and
dungeons. I might have alluded to the fact that, like many others
who flaunt their Christianity into the faces of those who presume to
think for themselves, you disregard the most noble and God-like
teachings of Him whom you profess to serve. I might have men-
tioned the wretched taste, the low professional morality, the trans-
parent falsehoods which characterize your speech and the utter dis-
regard of the ethics of your profession which prompted you to pub-
lish it in a common newspaper. If I had written your speech myself,
I could not have done a better service to the cause I have at heart,
and I can only see in your conduct, and in that of the body to which
you addressed your ravings, another exemplification of the fact that
" Quern Deus vult perdere prius dementat."
WILLIAM A. HAMMOND, M.D.
North Carolina State Library
GC 362.2 H227o
Hammond, William Alexander, 1828-1900.
An open letter to Eugene Grissom, superi
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An open letter to Eugene Grissom
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An open letter to Eugene Grissom